The summer months often leave a lot to be desired for gaming enthusiasts. While movie goers are experiencing the yearly run of summer blockbusters, gamers are left with a dead zone of retail releases. This year is mostly no different, unless of course you happen to own a 3DS and enjoy SquareEnix published titles, but as they have for the past few years Microsoft has brought its A game on the digital front with its Summer of Arcade promotion. Centering this year’s promotion is the 2D side scrolling, zombie themed platformer, Deadlight.
Set in Seattle during the mid-1980s after a zombie outbreak, Deadlight utilizes its chosen genre to weave a tale of survival. At first glance, Deadlight seems to take inspiration from classic titles such as Metroid and Castelevania, as well as the more recent Shadow Complex. However, Deadlight is different from those games because it focuses more on survival and environmental traversal than exploration and finding new equipment and upgrades.
While there is combat in Deadlight, ammo is scarce and appropriate to the setting, running away is nearly always a better option. As such finding ways to escape the hordes of zombies is where the real challenge of the title takes place. And that is where Deadlight is at its best, presenting players with unique encounters that require both quick reflexes and puzzle solving smarts. Unfortunately its greatest strength is also one of its weakest, most frustrating points.
While fast flowing segments, where precision movements into areas not yet explored are often standard, Deadlight features a variety of environmental puzzles that rely too much on trial and error. For a game that leans heavily on moody atmosphere and fearing death from the undead, it often times puts players in situations that cannot be passed without first failing them. It unfortunately takes the players out of the experience at hand, beating them over the head with the message that this is a game.
Further taking them out of the experience is the awkward narrative presentation. Mixing comic styled cutscenes with in-engine ones makes little sense and there seems to be little rhyme or reason behind when and where narrative will be exposed via these two delivery methods. Even more off-putting though is the inconsistencies with the voice acting. The lead is all over the place with his delivery and other character voices seemingly change completely throughout the course of the game.
The game’s narrative arc does not do itself any favors either. While the underlying character progression is quite engaging, the actual story itself takes some weird turns that make it falter a bit after the stellar first act. The second act, which involves a series of trials and a “rescue” mission, seem woefully out of place and the third act ends abruptly. While I personally was satisfied with the character arc, I felt there should have been more to the actual story and was left asking, “That’s it?”.
For as awkward as the narrative presentation may be though, the game shines when presenting its art style. Characters appear in shadow over a finely detailed backdrop. Levels are designed in such a way as to accentuate the devastation of the zombie outbreak but they also clearly show the 2D path that players are progressing upon. Having such a detailed backdrop can create some logic questions, like why would I continue on this current path when that alleyway over there seems safer, but most of the time players will be so engaged in trying to remain alive that those thoughts do not have time to enter while playing.
Deadlight is something of a mixed bag. When it works, it does so a full blast, delivering a moody survival horror experience like no other. When it doesn’t though it seems like a shoddily put together piece of software. Fortunately it mostly succeeds and despite its issues I personally found it to be a thoroughly engaging experience, at least until the ending, that I would rank with the best of this year’s games. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea but fans of moody zombie horror and 2D puzzle platforming will find quite a bit to like.
- Fantastic art style.
- Great sense of atmosphere.
- Precision controls.
- Excellent environmental puzzles.
- Relies too heavily on trial and error. Death is not a fun learning device.
- Narrative presentation is sub-par.
- Second act seems out of place.
4 / 5